I’ll Have Another pulled off another win in dramatic come-from-behind fashion. The three-year-old colt overtook Bodemeister in the final inches of the Preakness on Saturday afternoon.
The result was the best thing that could happen for horse racing.
I’ll Have Another, with jockey Mario Gutiérrez, went from 15-to-1 shot to Kentucky Derby winner two weeks ago. No longer under the radar, he entered the Preakness one of the favorites at 3-to-1. Now the horse is on the verge of making history with a chance to capture the sport’s elusive Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
But Gutiérrez did more than keep I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown hopes alive with Saturday’s win. The victory also gives the sport the much-needed hook it needs to maintain the interest of the masses.
After all, 34 years have passed since Affirmed won the ultimate trifecta: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Thoroughbred racing is a niche sport, but each year over a month-long span, the “Sport of Kings” has the opportunity to appeal to a national audience. The spectacle – and hats – of the Kentucky Derby draws in casual fans. However, the Preakness determines whether they will tune in again. A win at Pimlico by the Derby champion sets up the possibility of a Triple Crown heading into the event’s third leg. A loss and the excitement surrounding the sport all but disappears.
Unlike other sports, horse racing doesn’t benefit from parity. Reports show as much as an 80 percent drop in interest between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes if the Derby winner loses in Baltimore which – until Saturday -- had been the case for the last three years.
Gutiérrez snapped that drought, and now the jockey who entered the Derby as almost an unknown is one race away from becoming legendary. He is now a perfect 4-0 aboard I’ll Have Another, winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby in the lead-up to the Derby.
“You try to prepare better mentally, physically, at this level,” Gutiérrez said of the sport’s Triple Crown races. “You have to be more focused. There’s more attention from the media. Everybody’s asking questions.”
The main question was can I’ll Have Another win again? The answer proved to be a resounding yes.
“He’s a really nice horse,” Gutiérrez said of his mount ahead of the Derby. “He’s fast and he gives 100 percent. I think I can race him with anyone else.”
I’ll Have Another proved that at Churchill Downs. He backed it up at Pimlico. Now, everyone will be watching – and wagering -- to see if he and Gutiérrez can cross the finish line first one more time.
Preakness Winners in History
I'll Have Another becomes the 12th horse to have claimed the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1978, but I'll Have Another will try to become the only one to go on to win the Belmont for the Triple Crown.
2008: Big Brown
2004: Smarty Jones
2003: Funny Cide
2002: War Emblem
1998: Real Quiet
1997: Silver Charm
1989: Sunday Silence
1987: Alydar Foal Alysheba
1981: Pleasant Colony
1979: Spectacular Bid
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz